Building relationships with families through home visits

Communicating with families can be challenging, because both educators and parents are juggling multiple priorities and demands on their time. As a result, home-school communication is often limited to messages about what’s being taught in the classroom or maybe a phone call home if a student is struggling. To establish more personal relationships, some educators use home visits as part of their parent-engagement efforts.

Occurring once or twice a school year, home visits provide time for more relaxed, informal conversations between educators and parents. “Through these visits, teachers gain valuable insights into the child’s home and family, learn about the family’s goals and values, and the ways the family supports student learning at home, in school, and in the community,” writes Heather Weiss in this Harvard Family Research Project article. “Families get to know the teacher and find out about the child’s learning goals in a more informal way. The visits signal that the school and teachers welcome families and this starts building the trust that enables families and teachers to work together on behalf of the child. Though these actions appear simple, home visits have been linked to improved student attendance, behavior, and test scores.”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to home visits, and the purpose and activities often vary by the student’s grade level. For families of elementary school students, the home visit might focus on skills students are working on at school along with strategies for practicing these skills at home, perhaps while cooking or doing chores. For older students, educators might talk to parents about how they can help their child transition to a new grade or school or get ready for secondary education.

When planning home visits, consider the recommendations in this video by the Parent Teacher Home Visit (PTHV) organization:

  • Visits are voluntary for all involved,
  • Educators make visits in pairs and both are compensated,
  • Visits are set up in advance,
  • Educators meet with a cross section of students so there is no stigma associated with the visit, and
  • Visits include a conversation about the family’s hopes and dreams.

Some schools following the PTHV model have also implemented home visits in conjunction with Academic Parent-Teacher Teams. Their research shows that home visits improve communication and relationships between parents, teachers and students; reduce absenteeism; improve students’ academic performance and outcomes; and have a positive impact on teacher job satisfaction.

Home visits are the primary means of recruiting families to participate in the FAST® Program. During the home visit, team members get to know parents and guardians and establish a personal connection before describing the program and inviting them to attend the weekly sessions. Although home visits take more time than other methods of communication, team members have seen greater involvement from families when home visits are done well.

“We all want the best for our children, and as parents, we can’t do it on our own,” says a parent in this video. “We need the help from the other side—the educator side.” Home visits are just one of the ways you can communicate to parents their essential role in a child’s educational journey. If your school is already using home visits to engage parents, we would like to hear about your experiences.